Madras Lentils is a delicious and satisfying vegetarian dish from Northern India. Full of bold flavors from ginger, cumin, chili powder, and more, this plant-based dish is easy to make and perfect for weeknights!
Table of contents
This recipe is:
- Vegetarian (can easily be made vegan)
- Slightly smoky with a touch of spice
What Are Madras Lentils
I’ve taken creative liberties with this recipe for Madras Lentils. I took some notes from both Dal Maharani and Dal Makhani, and this recipe is a compilation of the three recipe relatives.
Most often, madras lentils are made with kidney beans and black glam or whole urad dal. For this recipe I opted to use black beluga lentils because they don’t require soaking before cooking and can be easier to find (depending on where you are). You can of course use black glam/whole urad, just be sure to soak the dry lentils 8 hours before using.
Occasionally, I like to add red bell pepper, like I did here. It’s not traditional and can absolutely be left out. Additionally, I do not call for adding jalapeño or serrano, both would be a wonderful addition and, if using, should be added with the onions.
And finally, many recipes for Madras Lentils call for half-and-half, cream, or coconut milk. The addition of cream of milk adds silkiness and richness—I find it muddles the flavors so I usually leave it out. If you want that added creaminess, add splash or two at the end of cooking or drizzle over individual servings.
Video: How to Make Madras Lentils
Madras Lentils vs Dal Maharani vs Dal Makhani
Madras Lentils, Dal Maharani and Dal Makhani are close relatives to each other, sharing similar ingredients and cooking methods, they differ mostly in decadence and/or ingredient ratios.
Simplifying the differences in these dishes is not an easy task, but on the most basic level—Dal Maharani hails from Northern India and is most often a home-cooked dish, with slight variations from cook to cook.
Dal Makhani is the restaurant version of Dal Maharani, featuring more cream and butter, making it decadent and creamy.
And finally, Madras Lentils is an Americanized version of Dal Maharani which is slightly creamier in texture and often, though not always, features added cream.
How to make Madras Lentils
A one-pot dish, this recipe comes together in an hour and requires very little hands-on time. Here’s how to make Madras Lentils on the stove-top.
- Cook onion, pepper, ginger, and garlic in butter (or oil) until softened.
- Add tomato paste and spices and cook 1 minute.
- Stir in broth and lentils, bring to a simmer, decrease heat, partially cover and cook until lentils are tender.
- Stir in beans, vinegar, and honey; season with salt and pepper and serve.
- Optional: top Madras Lentils with cilantro and half-and-half or coconut milk.
What to serve Madras Lentils with
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- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped (optional)
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala optional
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 cup dry black beluga lentils
- 1 (14-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons honey
- Cilantro, canned coconut milk, naan bread and/or rice for serving
- Melt butter in a large pot or Dutch oven or medium-high heat. Add onion, pepper, ginger and garlic; cook until vegetables are softened, 4–6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in tomato paste, chili powder, garam masala, cumin, salt, paprika, and red pepper flakes; cook 1 minute.
- Stir in broth and lentils, increase heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes.
- Stir in beans, vinegar, and honey; season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve lentils over rice or with naan bread, top with cilantro and a drizzle of coconut milk or half-and-half, if using.
- Store lentils in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.